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 veryhotthread  Author  Topic: Stuff & Nonsense  (Read 98344 times)
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« Reply #6675 on: May 12th, 2012, 08:14am »

Wired

Star Wars Stamps Cover All Your Intergalactic Mail Needs
By Angela Watercutter
May 11, 2012 | 6:30 am
Categories: Art, Design and Fashion, movies, sci-fi


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Coruscant


Traditional postal service might seem alien in a world where people can communicate using holograms, but mixing futuristic and old-school ideas inspired graphic artist Stefan van Zoggel to create his Star Wars stamps.

“The collision of the sci-fi futuristic world of Star Wars and the old, traditional world of postage stamps back in the day is what excited me about this project,” van Zoggel said in an e-mail to Wired about his series of arty stamps. “It wouldn’t be as fun to just make droid holograms, or even stamps with random Star Wars images on [them]. I like the fact that they look like they were used a century ago to send post to another planet.”

To that end, van Zoggel, who gained web fame in February for his Meme Movie Posters, has created stamps that appear to originate in the many worlds in the Star Wars universe. Want to send a postcard from the Dagobah system to Coruscant? There’s a stamp for that. The stamps’ values are based on the Galactic Credit Standard, and — perhaps best of all — R2-D2 is the postmaster.

Van Zoggel, whose day job is as a creative for DLKWLowe ad agency in London, said he doesn’t have official plans to offer the Star Wars stamps for sale the way he did with his meme movie posters (which are currently available here). But he said he would consider a limited run of posters of all the stamps together. (At-reply or direct message him on Twitter if you’re interested.)

Check out the stamps in the gallery above and consider what it would be like if your mail were handled like it was by the lake on Naboo.


gallery after the jump:
http://www.wired.com/underwire/2012/05/star-wars-stamps/

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« Reply #6676 on: May 12th, 2012, 08:22am »

Hollywood Reporter

Upfronts 2012: Complete Network Scorecard

THR has the complete guide to the 2012-13 television season for the five broadcast networks,
including which shows will return and which ones are dead -- and what's coming up.

9:37 PM PDT 5/11/2012
by Lesley Goldberg , Philiana Ng

With upfronts set to take place in New York next week, the broadcast networks are ready to tout returning favorites and introduce their newest fare.


Complete list after the jump:
http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/live-feed/upfronts-2012-network-scorecard-323634

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« Reply #6677 on: May 13th, 2012, 08:46am »

New York Times

May 13, 2012
U.S. May Scrap Costly Efforts to Train Iraqi Police
By TIM ARANGO

BAGHDAD — In the face of spiraling costs and Iraqi officials who say they never wanted it in the first place, the State Department has slashed — and may jettison entirely by the end of the year — a multibillion-dollar police training program that was to have been the centerpiece of a hugely expanded civilian mission here.

What was originally envisioned as a training cadre of about 350 American law enforcement officers was quickly scaled back to 190 and then to 100. The latest restructuring calls for 50 advisers, but most experts and even some State Department officials say even they may be withdrawn by the end of this year.

The training effort, which began in October and has already cost $500 million, was conceived of as the largest component of a mission billed as the most ambitious American aid effort since the Marshall Plan. Instead, it has emerged as the latest high-profile example of the waning American influence here following the military withdrawal, and it reflects a costly miscalculation on the part of American officials, who did not count on the Iraqi government to assert its sovereignty so aggressively.

“I think that with the departure of the military, the Iraqis decided to say, ‘O.K., how large is the American presence here?’ ” said James F. Jeffrey, the American ambassador to Iraq, in an interview. “How large should it be? How does this equate with our sovereignty? In various areas they obviously expressed some concerns.”

Last year the State Department embarked on $343 million worth of construction projects around the country to upgrade facilities to accommodate the police training program, which was to have comprised hundreds of trainers and more than 1,000 support staff members working in three cities — Baghdad, Erbil and Basra — for five years. But like so much else in the nine years of war, occupation and reconstruction here, it has not gone as planned.

A lesson given by an American police instructor to a class of Iraqi trainees neatly encapsulated the program’s failings. There are two clues that could indicate someone is planning a suicide attack, the instructor said: a large bank withdrawal and heavy drinking.

The problem with that advice, which was recounted by Ginger Cruz, the former deputy inspector general at the American Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, was that few Iraqis have bank accounts and an extremist Sunni Muslim bent on carrying out a suicide attack is likely to consider drinking a cardinal sin.

Last month many of the Iraqi police officials who had been participating in the training suddenly refused to attend the seminars and PowerPoint presentations given by the Americans, saying they saw little benefit from the sessions.

The Iraqis have also insisted that the training sessions be held at their own facilities, rather than American ones. But reflecting the mistrust that remains between Iraqi and American officials, the State Department’s security guards will not allow the trainers to establish set meeting times at Iraqi facilities, so as not to set a pattern for insurgents, who still sometimes infiltrate Iraq’s military and police.

The largest of the construction projects, an upgrade at the Baghdad Police College that included installing protective covering over double-wide residence trailers (to shield against mortar attacks) and new dining and laundry facilities and seminar rooms, was recently abandoned, unfinished, after an expenditure of more than $100 million. The remaining police advisers will instead work out of the American Embassy compound, where they will have limited ability to interact with Iraqi police officials.

Robert M. Perito, director of the Security Sector Governance Center of Innovation at the United States Institute of Peace, called the project a “small program for a lot of money.”

“The first problem is the State Department doesn’t operate in dangerous environments,” said Mr. Perito, who last year wrote a history of United States police training in Iraq. “As soon as the U.S. military left, the State Department was on its own. And that immediately ran the price up and restricted the ability of advisers to move around.”

The State Department has consistently defended the program, even after it was whittled down in scope and criticized publicly by the head of Iraq’s Interior Ministry, Adnan al-Assadi, who last year questioned the wisdom of spending so much on a program the Iraqis never sought.

“We have stood up a robust police-training program, which is doing a terrific job working with the local police in training and developing a program, which I think will pay enormous dividends,” said Thomas R. Nides, deputy secretary of state for management and resources, in a briefing in February with reporters in Washington.

In fact, at every turn the program has faced steep challenges.

In an interview on Friday, Mr. Nides said, “I don’t think anything went wrong.” He added, “the Iraqis don’t believe they need a program of that scale and scope.”

Mr. Nides said the scaling back of the program was part of his broader effort to reduce the size of the embassy.

After realizing that the security environment would largely prevent the trainers from traveling outside their barracks, the focus of the program was shifted to holding seminars and PowerPoint presentations on topics like how to spot suicide bombers, protect human rights and deal with large crowds.

The trainers are mostly retired state troopers and other law enforcement personnel on leave from their jobs back home, and a number of officials who criticized the program questioned what those trainers have to offer Iraqi police officials who have been operating in a war zone for years.

Mr. Perito said that the State Department never developed a suitable curriculum and that instead, advisers often “end up talking about their own experiences or tell war stories and it’s not relevant.”

Retired Lt. Gen. James M. Dubik, now a senior fellow at the Institute for the Study of War, who oversaw the training of Iraqi security forces from 2007 to 2008, said, “The evidence suggests that the State Department never really engaged the Iraqis to find out what they need and what they want.”

The program has consistently been challenged by the special inspector general’s office, which in an audit late last year warned that it could become a “bottomless pit” for taxpayer dollars. The office’s most recent quarterly report, released at the end of April, stated that embassy officials acknowledged “that those challenges may lead to the further restructuring” of the program “in the near future.”

Last year, in preparation for the withdrawal of the military, the State Department planned a large expansion of its role here, designed to maintain influence and be a counterweight to the vast political influence of Iran. Yet, after doubling the size of the embassy staff to nearly 16,000 people, mostly contractors, the State Department quickly reversed course this year — partly because of Iraqi objections to the expanded operation — and is now cutting back from the slightly more than 12,000 people presently in Iraq.

Since 2003, the American government has spent nearly $8 billion training the Iraqi police. The program was first under the State Department, but it was transferred to the Department of Defense in 2004 as the insurgency intensified. Yet the force that the American military left behind was trained to fight a counterinsurgency, not to act as a traditional law enforcement organization. Police officers here, for example, do not pull over speeding drivers or respond to calls about cats stuck in trees.

“What is really needed is a restructuring and reorienting of that force so it becomes a law enforcement agency that serves a democracy,” Mr. Perito said.


http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/13/world/middleeast/us-may-scrap-costly-effort-to-train-iraqi-police.html?_r=1&hp

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« Reply #6678 on: May 13th, 2012, 08:50am »

Reuters

Merkel faces rout in state vote over austerity

By Stephen Brown
DUESSELDORF, Germany
Sun May 13, 2012 7:40am EDT

DUESSELDORF, Germany (Reuters) - Voting began on Sunday in Germany's most populous state where Angela Merkel's conservatives face a defeat that could give the left momentum before next year's federal election and fuel criticism of the chancellor's European austerity drive.

North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), an industrial state in western Germany with an economy and population roughly the size of the Netherlands, has a history of influencing national politics.

First exit polls were due at 1600 GMT and expected to show Hannelore Kraft of the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) trouncing her Christian Democrat (CDU) rival Norbert Roettgen, who is Merkel's environment minister.

"The SPD will get back in," said Helmut Krah, a voter in the NRW capital Duesseldorf who was window-shopping with his wife on the elegant Koenigsallee. "I'm voting for them not because they are good but because the others are so bad."

The vote is likely to bolster SPD fortunes nationwide and make Merkel, Germany's most popular politician, look politically vulnerable for the first time in a long while.

Kraft, who has run a fragile minority government with the Greens for two years, has won over voters by promising a go-slowly approach to cutting NRW's 180-billion-euro ($233 billion) debt, dodging accusations of fiscal mismanagement by the CDU.

A decisive victory for the SPD would be seen by many as a double defeat for the chancellor - NRW would be rejecting her party and the fiscal discipline she has forced on heavily indebted euro zone countries like Greece.

The vote in NRW follows elections in Greece, France and Italy that highlighted a growing backlash against austerity.

Roettgen has declared the vote a referendum on Merkel's European debt policies. "The election on Sunday also serves to finally give our chancellor full support from Duesseldorf ... for her national and European policies," he told a crowd of 2,000 at a campaign rally on Friday.

Other conservative leaders have distanced themselves from Roettgen and pollsters say a strong majority of Germans still support Merkel's insistence on fiscal discipline in Europe, even if they do not want as much austerity at home.

HARBINGER OF CHANGE?

NRW, home to one in six German voters, is a microcosm of Germany and changes in coalitions there have been harbingers of change for national governments. In 2005, the CDU led a centre-right coalition there to power four months before Merkel was elected with the same constellation in Berlin.

The latest poll released on Friday put the SPD on 38 percent and the Greens on 11 percent, well ahead of the CDU and their preferred Free Democrat (FDP) coalition allies.

The CDU is polling 33 percent, which would be the party's worst result in NRW, and the pro-business FDP look set to get just 5 percent of the vote. In the NRW election in 2010, the SPD were just behind the CDU.

"Hannelore Kraft set to win in NRW", "SPD-Greens on home stretch", read headlines at the weekend.

The upstart Pirates Party, whose platform is based on internet freedom and more direct participation in politics, look set to enter their fourth regional parliament in a row. They were polling at 8 percent.

Leaders of the FDP, junior partners in Merkel's centre-right coalition in Berlin, have sent signals that they might be open to a coalition with the SPD and the Greens.

"With the FDP and SPD, a performance-oriented party and a party focused mostly on social justice would rule together - surely it would be ideal if these two fundamental views came together," Wolfgang Kubicki, leader of the FDP in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein, told Welt am Sonntag newspaper.

Were a similar coalition to come together at the national level in 2013, it could doom Merkel's hopes of a third term.


(Additional Reporting by Noah Barkin and Sarah Marsh in Berlin, Tom Kaeckenhoff in Duesseldorf; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/05/13/us-germany-election-nrw-idUSBRE84C06A20120513

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« Reply #6679 on: May 13th, 2012, 08:57am »

Wired

Drug Doubles: What Actors Actually Toke, Smoke and Snort on Camera
By Thomas Golianopoulos
May 12, 2012 | 7:00 am
Categories: movies


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Movie sets are drug-free environments, at least in theory. Even if an actor is playing a tie-dye-wearing burnout whose best friend is a honey-bear bong, puffing the real thing is strictly verboten. (We’ll refrain from speculating about what happens in the trailer.)

So what do actors actually toke—or snort or shoot or huff—on camera? That depends upon their characters’ drug of choice.

Methamphetamine

The speed cooked up by Walter White (Bryan Cranston) on Breaking Bad won’t give you meth mouth, but it might cause cavities—rock candy is the stand-in for Heisenberg’s product.

Marijuana

Throughout Pineapple Express, characters smoke a nontobacco herb from online head shop International Oddities. It looks like pot, it blazes like pot, but no word on if it “smells like God’s vagina.”

Cocaine

Legend has it that Al Pacino plowed through real coke on the set of Scarface. When it was time for the cast of 2001′s Blow to go skiing, though, the actors snorted inositol—powdered vitamin B.

Crack

Ryan Gosling’s rock in the indie film Half Nelson was actually a piece of a broken drinking mug that prop artists had dyed with coffee. A bit of tobacco provided the smoke, and voilà: Pookie status.


http://www.wired.com/underwire/2012/05/pl_drugs/

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« Reply #6680 on: May 13th, 2012, 09:03am »

Telegraph

Two British servicemen have been shot dead by Afghan policemen they were training, it has emerged.

By Ben Farmer, in Ghazni
2:28PM BST 13 May 2012

The killing in Helmand province is the latest in a growing spree of Afghan personnel killing their Nato allies.

The soldier from 1st Battalion Welsh Guards and one airman from the Royal Air Force were shot dead on Saturday in Lashkar Gah district.

One of the policemen was shot dead in an ensuing gunfight and the other fled and has yet to be caught.

Fareed Ahmad, a spokesman for the Helmand provincial police, said the policemen opened fire at 3pm at a joint Afghan-coalition compound.

He said a third Afghan policemen fired at the attackers, killing one and wounding the other, who escaped.

According to Mr Ahmad, the gunmen had been members of the Afghan National Police for a year and were from Nangarhar province in eastern Afghanistan.

The British dead were part of an advisory team providing security at a meeting with local officials near patrol base Attal, according to a statement from the Ministry of Defence in London.

The families of the men have been informed and their names are likely to be released on Monday. A total of 414 British troops have died in the Afghan campaign.

Major Ian Lawrence, spokesman for Task Force Helmand, said: "Sadly, it is my duty to confirm that a soldier serving with 1st Battalion Welsh Guards and an airman from The Royal Air Force have been shot and killed in the Lashkar Gah district of Helmand province.

"The thoughts and condolences of everyone serving in the Task Force are with their families and friends."

The killings came less than two months after two other British servicemen were shot dead by an Afghan soldier in Lashkar Gah after an apparent quarrel.

Sgt Luke Taylor of the Royal Marines and L/Cpl Michael Foley, 25, from the Adjutant General's Corps were shot dead while on guard duty after Gul Nazir, an Afghan soldier, became enraged because they would not let him in.

Around 20 coalition troops have been shot dead in 2012 so far by their allies and many more wounded.

The toll of the “green on blue” attacks has risen steeply in the past year, leading commanders to enforce new safeguards against infiltration and assassination, including “guardian angel” sentries to watch over soldiers as they eat or sleep.

Nato troops regularly complain that they cannot trust their Afghan allies.

The reasons for the killings remain unclear. While some appear to be assassinations by Taliban sympathisers, many appear instead to be due to disputes and arguments.

Coalition commanders seeking to play down the significance of the killings have said there are many more incidents where Afghan police or soldiers shoot each other due to feuds or grievances.

They also claim the increase in the number of shootings only mirrors the rapidly growing size of the Afghan police and army.

Meanwhile, a senior official on Hamid Karzai’s peace negotiation council was shot dead in Kabul by an unknown assassin as he travelled to work.

Arsala Rahmani had been minister for higher education under the Taliban government, but had reconciled with the Afghan government and was a close ally to the president.

He was killed by a single bullet from a pistol while sitting in his vehicle in heavy traffic at an intersection on Sunday morning.

He was one of a number of former Taliban on the High Peace Council who had pushed hard for a political settlement to the conflict.

Mohammad Zahir, head of the city police's criminal investigation division, told AP: "Only one shot was fired.”

"Our initial reports are that it was a pistol with a silencer. Rahmani died on the way to the hospital."

The Taliban denied responsibility for the killing, although they had earlier indicated that they would target peace negotiators.

A statement from the Nato-led coalition said: “The only possible aim of this attack is to intimidate those, who like Rahmani, want to help make Afghanistan a better place for its citizens and the region.

“This attack is clear evidence that those who oppose the legitimate government of Afghanistan have absolutely no interest in supporting the peace process on any level but through murder, thuggery, and intimidation.”

In March, Sergeant Luke Taylor, of the Royal Marines, and Lance Corporal Michael Foley, of the Adjutant General's Corps (Staff and Personnel Support) were shot dead by an Afghan soldier at the entrance to the UK headquarters in Helmand province.

Five British soldiers were killed by a rogue Afghan policeman in November 2009. The gunman opened fire on the men in a military compound in Nad e-Ali before fleeing. The Taliban later claimed responsibility.

The victims were Warrant Officer Class 1 Darren Chant, 40, from Walthamstow, London, Sergeant Matthew Telford, 37, from Grimsby, and Guardsman Jimmy Major, 18, also from Grimsby, all members of 1st Battalion The Grenadier Guards. Royal Military Policemen Corporal Steven Boote, 22, from Birkenhead, and Corporal Nicholas Webster-Smith, 24, from Brackley, Northamptonshire, were also killed.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/afghanistan/9262896/Two-British-servicemen-shot-dead-by-Afghan-police-they-were-training.html

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« Reply #6681 on: May 14th, 2012, 08:27am »

Seattle Times

Originally published May 14, 2012 at 5:11 AM
Page modified May 14, 2012 at 6:17 AM

Mexico drug war's latest toll: 49 headless bodies

Police found 49 mutilated bodies scattered in a pool of blood near the border with the U.S.,
a region where Mexico's two dominant drug cartels are trying to outdo each other in bloodshed while warring over smuggling routes.

By OLGA R. RODRIGUEZ
Associated Press

MONTERREY, Mexico

Police found 49 mutilated bodies scattered in a pool of blood near the border with the U.S., a region where Mexico's two dominant drug cartels are trying to outdo each other in bloodshed while warring over smuggling routes.

The bodies of 43 men and six women with their heads, hands and feet chopped off were dumped at the entrance to the town of San Juan, on a highway that connects the industrial city of Monterrey with Reynosa, across from McAllen, Texas.

At the spot where authorities discovered the bodies before dawn Sunday, a white stone arch that normally welcomes visitors to the town was spray-painted with "100% Zeta" in black letters - an apparent reference to the fearsome Zetas drug cartel that was founded by deserters from the Mexican army's special forces.

The bodies, some of them in plastic garbage bags, were most likely brought to the spot and dropped from the back of a dump truck, Nuevo Leon state security spokesman Jorge Domene said.

Domene said the dead would be hard to identify because of the lack of heads, hands and feet. The remains were taken to a Monterrey auditorium for DNA tests.

The victims could have been killed as long as two days ago at another location, then transported to San Juan, a town in the municipality of Cadereyta, about 105 miles (175 kilometers) west-southwest of McAllen, Texas, and 75 miles (125 kilometers) southwest of the Roma, Texas, border crossing, state Attorney General Adrian de la Garza said.

Only one couple looking for their missing daughter visited the morgue in Monterrey where autopsies were being performed Sunday, a state police investigator said.

The officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the case, said none of the six female bodies matched the missing daughter's description. He said some of the bodies were badly decomposed and some had their whole arms or lower legs missing.

De la Garza said he did not rule out the possibility that the victims were U.S.-bound migrants.

But it seemed more likely that the killings were the latest salvo in a gruesome game of tit-for-tat in fighting between the Zetas and the powerful Sinaloa Cartel.

Mass body dumpings have increased around Mexico in the last six months of escalating fighting between the Zetas and Sinaloa, which is led by fugitive drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, and its allies, the federal Attorney General's Office said in statement late Sunday.

The two cartels have committed "irrational acts of inhumane and inadmissible violence in their dispute," the office said, reiterating it is offering $2 million rewards for information leading to the arrests of Guzman, Ismael Zambada, another Sinaloa cartel leader, and Zetas' leaders Heriberto Lazacano Lazcano and Miguel Trevino.

Under President Felipe Calderon's nearly six-year offensive against organized crime, the two cartels have emerged as Mexico's two most powerful gangs and are battling over strategic transport routes and territory, including along the northern border with the U.S. and in the Gulf coast state of Veracruz.

In less than a month, the mutilated bodies of 14 men were left in a van in downtown Nuevo Laredo, 23 people were found hanged or decapitated in the same border city and 18 dismembered bodied were left near Mexico's second-largest city, Guadalajara. Nuevo Laredo, like Monterrey, is considered Zeta territory, while Guadalajara has long been controlled by gangs loyal to Sinaloa.

"This is the most definitive of all the cartel wars," said Raul Benitez Manaut, a security expert at Mexico's National Autonomous University.

The Zetas are a transient gang without real territory or a secure stream of income, unlike Sinaloa with its lucrative cocaine trade and control of smuggling routes and territory, Benitez said. But the Zetas are heavily armed while Sinaloa has a weak enforcement arm, he said.

The government's success in killing or arresting cartel leaders has fractured other once big cartels into weaker, quarreling bands that in many cases are lining up with either the Zetas or Sinaloa. At least one of those two cartels is present in nearly all of Mexico's 32 states.

A year ago this month, more than two dozen people - most of them Zetas - were killed when they tried to infiltrate the Sinaloa's territory in the Pacific Coast state of Nayarit.

But their war started in earnest last fall in Veracruz, a strategic smuggling state with a giant Gulf port.

A drug gang allied with Sinaloa left 35 bodies on a main boulevard in the city of Veracruz in September, and police found 32 other bodies, apparently killed by the same gang, a few days after that. The goal apparently was to take over territory that had been dominated by the Zetas.

Twenty-six bodies were found in November in Guadalajara, another territory being disputed by the Zetas and Sinaloa.

Drug violence has killed more than 47,500 people since Calderon launched a stepped-up offensive when he took office in December 2006.

Mexico is now in the midst of presidential race to replace Calderon, who by law can't run for re-election. Drug violence seems to be escalating, but none of the major candidates has referred directly to mass killings. All say they will stop the violence and make Mexico a more secure place, but offer few details on how their plans would differ from Calderon's.

Benitez said the wave of violence has nothing to do with the presidential election.

"It has the dynamic of a war between cartels," he said.


Associated Press writer Porfirio Ibarra Ramirez in Monterrey, Mexico contributed to this report.

http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/nationworld/2018204754_apltdrugwarmexico.html

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« Reply #6682 on: May 14th, 2012, 08:34am »

Wired

Cash, and Time, Runs Out for Afghanistan’s Wi-Fi City
By Spencer Ackerman
May 14, 2012 | 6:30 am
Categories: Af/Pak

It was a project that symbolized America’s grand ambitions to rebuild Afghanistan: a D.I.Y. wi-fi network, free for Afghans to use, powering the aid projects and business ventures of the eastern city of Jalalabad. But now funding for the JLink network has run dry, and like so much of the Afghanistan war, it’s run out of time. Most of Jalalabad is about to go offline.

The sudden collapse of the network is causing local aid workers, entrepreneurs and the entire city to adjust to the prospect of life without a freely available Internet. JLink is woven into the fabric of Jalalabad: it took about two years for high-speed Internet to become available through JLink in the city’s public hospital, local elementary schools and the women’s dorm at Nangarhar University. After one of JLink’s two satellite connections went dark on May 1, some in the city’s aid community considered it a prelude to a larger international withdrawal from Afghanistan.

JLink is not something the Taliban destroyed. Its impending collapse illustrates what happens when grand ambitions lead to grand achievements that ultimately prove unsustainable — perhaps because they proceeded from unstable, utopian premises. And like the war itself, the group that created JLink is out of time to salvage its project.

“The demise of the JLink is going to be a huge blow to Jalalabad’s nascent community of tech entrepreneurs — creative, dedicated young people who are pushing innovation in their own communities and creating well-paying, skilled jobs for their peers,” says Una Vera Moore, a development worker in Afghanistan who’s part of a last-ditch effort to save JLink. “What kind of message will we, de-facto representatives of the international community in Afghanistan, send when the network finally goes down? A message of fatigue and abandonment.”

JLink’s genesis came out of a heralded 2009 project begun by some MIT students working out of Jalalabad. The “Fab Labs” were pop-up workshops that taught Afghans to fabricate small-scale projects from t-shirts to, importantly, wireless antennas. The connectivity for those Labs came from expatriate Americans in their 20s and 30s who came to Afghanistan in the hope of helping, nonviolently, to rehab a country fractured by decades of war. Two of those expats, living out of a guesthouse in the city, loaned the Fab Lab a place to work, and then connected the lab to their own wireless network.

“At the Fab Lab, some of the [Afghan] students came up with the idea of using point-to-point antennas and off-the-shelf routers to create a mesh network, to share internet around Jalalabad,” explains one of those expats, Todd Huffman, a 32-year old San Franciscan. “Initially, MIT students were using a laser cutter at the Fab Lab to fabricate point-to point-dishes. Afghan students quickly figured out you didn’t need a laser cutter — you could build them out of tin cans and whatnot. That’s the core of how this got started.”


more after the jump:
http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2012/05/jlink/all/1

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« Reply #6683 on: May 14th, 2012, 08:45am »

Reuters

Egypt vote won't push the generals aside

By Edmund Blair and Marwa Awad
CAIRO | Mon May 14, 2012 6:57am EDT

Near the rock-strewn scene of a bloody anti-army protest, Islamist, liberal and other politicians sat with ruling generals this month to haggle over Egypt's future after its first presidential vote since Hosni Mubarak's fall.

At stake in the Defense Ministry meeting, held just hours after 11 people were killed in another flare-up marring Egypt's transition to democracy, was who would write a new constitution and what powers would Mubarak's successor have.

No clarity has emerged.

When voting starts on May 23 and 24 in a presidential race that broadly pits Islamists against men who at one time or another served under Mubarak, Egyptians still won't know the next head of state's permanent job description.

"It's a poker game," said Ahmed Said, head of the liberal Free Egyptians party, describing the talks he attended on May 2 between political party leaders and military ruler Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, who is also defense minister.

The closed-door bargaining is a far cry from the adrenalin-fuelled street protests that toppled Mubarak in just 18 days.

Fifteen months later, the revolt that gripped the world and inspired Arabs has stumbled under the transition managed by the generals who took charge when Mubarak, a former air force commander, was forced out.

Sporadic street protests still flare, but change is now being dictated by a tortuous tug-of-war between the civilian politicians and the army, a pillar of Mubarak's rule which is set to remain a major power broker long after it formally hands over to a new president by July 1.

Faces of the 13 presidential candidates beam down from banners and posters across the nation of 82 million. They promise change. But the election will not mean a swift end to turbulence, even though it will add a new political player.

"For at least the first year there will be a lot of muddling through. As long as the roles aren't defined you are going to see a struggle for power among the different forces," said Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Center.

"There is going to be lot of brinkmanship. There are going to be a lot of protests. There is going to be some violence."

The grinding pace has left liberal-minded activists who inspired the revolt fuming at the unfinished work of dismantling Mubarak's legacy. Islamists grumble that their sweeping parliamentary election mandate is being ignored. Many Egyptians are simply tired of the turmoil that has hammered the economy.

"The revolution hasn't failed ... But it hasn't been completed yet. God willing, we will complete it. Maybe it will take five years," said Ahmed Gaber, 23, who was protesting against the army outside the Defense Ministry this month.

'HISTORY IN THE MAKING'

Yet the Egyptians are enjoying a kind of politics unthinkable in Mubarak's day. Last week, the two presidential front-runners, former Arab League chief Amr Moussa and moderate Islamist Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh, faced off in an unprecedented U.S.-style presidential debate.

"History in the making. Egyptians head home to watch their first-ever presidential debate. Change has come," wrote Minoush Abdel-Meguid on Twitter, shortly before the marathon four-hour show began on Thursday evening and ended well after midnight.

The uprising has also reshaped Egypt's ties with the region and the West. The United States now openly talks to the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists, groups it long spurned.

Israel watches warily as presidential candidates criticize - but still promise to respect - the peace treaty signed with Egypt in 1979. Mubarak's Gulf allies, meanwhile, fret that popular unrest will spill over to their monarchies.

Yet the foundations of the state that shored up Mubarak's rule remain firmly intact. The military establishment boasts how it sided with the people to change the man at the top, but there is no talk of a deeper institutional sweep-out. Tantawi was Mubarak's defense minister for 20 years. Mubarak's Interior Ministry and its hated police force remains unreformed.

"We respect the military establishment but the Brotherhood will not allow it to wield political influence in the new state," said Essam el-Erian, a leader of the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), which now dominates parliament.

The 84-year-old Brotherhood, seeking to capitalize on its political gains, has already lost one skirmish with the army when the FJP called for the military-appointed cabinet to be sacked. Instead, there was a minor reshuffle and no FJP members were included in the new line-up.

"Dismantling the army's hold on the civil state is a gradual process because any quick decision will lead to a civilian-military confrontation," Erian said.

Mahmoud Ghozlan of the Brotherhood's executive bureau said it could take more than 10 years to push back the army.

UNCERTAIN TIMES

Western diplomats also speak of a long haul to disentangle the military from politics and create an army that answers to civilian leaders. Army officers privately say it will take years to achieve the revolution's goals. They insist the army wants to stay out of politics but remains ready to help when called.

Yet these are uncertain times for the generals. Since the "Free Officers" of Gamal Abel Nasser toppled the king in 1952, the man in charge of Egypt has always been a military commander.

The army kept its distance from politics, confident the president was guarding its interests. In the meantime, the military gained privileges and built up sprawling business interests ranging from a military industrial complex to factories bottling water, operating almost as a parallel state.

The main candidates have said the army's status will change. Amr Moussa, 75, who once served as Mubarak's foreign minister, says the president, not the army, will be "the boss". Abol Fotouh, 60, and the Brotherhood's candidate Mohamed Mursi, 60, insist the army will not be above the constitution.

Among the leading candidates, only Ahmed Shafiq was a senior military officer. Like Mubarak, he previously headed the air force and was also the former president's last prime minister.

In an interview with Reuters in February, the 70-year-old Shafiq said bluntly: "Civilians may be in a hurry and they think that as soon as the new president is elected he will act freely of the military. No, this will not be the case."

Egypt's new president is likely to find pressing problems on the domestic front to distract him from taking on the army. One urgent task will be reviving an economy on the ropes after investors and tourists packed up.

TURKISH MODEL

But the military's role will start shifting, even if slowly.

"Relatively speaking there is going to be a change, just like there was in Turkey. Turkey provides a model on how these changes happen. They seem minimal and gradual at first but they accumulate over time," said Brookings' Hamid.

In Turkey, the power of the army that was for decades the defender of the secular state has been gradually rolled back, mostly by the ruling AK Party, which has Islamist roots.

It is a worrying comparison for Egypt's military. Turkey's generals and senior officers are being hauled before the courts for their role in bringing down a government in the late 1990s.

Presidential candidates suggest they don't want to put military leaders in the dock, but the army has attracted public criticism over its handling of protests. Scenes of soldiers beating demonstrators have marred its reputation, even if many Egyptians see the army as a vital safeguard against chaos.

Generals say most people still back them. "Ask the ordinary Egyptian to what extent he is harmed by these protests that have no aim except to delay people's daily lives," General Hassan Roweny told Reuters near the Defense Ministry sit-in.

The generals want to secure immunity from prosecution, guard their privileges and keep a guiding hand on defense and foreign policy, particularly on Israel as the peace deal brings $1.3 billion a year in U.S. military aid, analysts and diplomats say.

One way the army will keep a grip will be through a proposed National Security Council, widely endorsed by candidates. This would include senior ministers, speakers of parliament and army commanders. Officers privately say it would give them a broad say on issues ranging from waging war to bread shortages.

The army also wants to keep its budget protected from deep public scrutiny in parliament.

How far and fast the army is pushed back may depend on how much of a united front Egypt's feuding political parties build.

For now, the army has been hosting the cross-party talks to resolve a row over the make-up of an assembly that was to write the new constitution. Liberals walked out of the assembly picked by parliament, saying it had too many Islamists.

"The army is a key player and will continue to be one," said Ziad Bahaa-Eldin of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party.

"But we also need to develop our capacity to work as political parties inside parliament and outside parliament irrespective of whether the army is sitting around the table or not."


(Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Alistair Lyon)

http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/05/14/us-egypt-election-idUSBRE84D0ET20120514

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« Reply #6684 on: May 14th, 2012, 08:49am »

Deadline Hollywood

Best Buy Founder Gives Up Chairman Role After Mishandling Former CEO’s Affair

By DAVID LIEBERMAN, Executive Editor
Monday May 14, 2012 @ 9:30am EDT
Tags: Best Buy

MINNEAPOLIS, May 14, 2012 – The Board of Directors of Best Buy Co., Inc. (NYSE:BBY) announced that on Saturday, May 12, 2012, it elected director Hatim Tyabji to succeed Richard Schulze as Chairman of the Company, effective at the conclusion of the annual meeting on June 21, 2012. Mr. Tyabji, currently Chairman of the Audit Committee, has served as a director since 1998.

When Mr. Schulze steps down as Chairman, he will become Founder and Chairman Emeritus, an honorary position. Mr. Schulze will serve out the remainder of his term as director through June 2013.
“Hatim’s history of leadership combines technology, retail, financial and mobile experience at the most senior levels,” said lead independent director Matthew Paull. “He has founded companies, chaired and served on boards and successfully led enterprises through long-term growth and change. The Board is grateful for his many years of service and is pleased to expand his role to Chairman.”

“The story of Best Buy is a remarkable American success story,” said incoming Chairman Hatim Tyabji. “Dick’s leadership and vision changed the landscape of American retail, and he will forever be remembered as an iconic entrepreneur. We join Best Buy’s 167,000
employees in thanking him.”

The Board also publicly released the results of an independent investigation into personal conduct allegations involving former CEO Brian Dunn, who resigned in April. When these allegations, which were unrelated to the company’s operations or financial controls, were brought to the Board’s attention, the Audit Committee immediately initiated an investigation. Prior to the completion of the investigation, Mr. Dunn resigned.

When the Audit Committee was first informed of the allegations in mid-March 2012, it hired outside law firm WilmerHale to conduct an independent investigation. In the interest of transparency and accountability, the board made a commitment to publicly release the findings.

Key findings of the investigation include:

• The CEO violated Company policy by engaging in an extremely close personal relationship with a female employee that negatively impacted the work environment.

• The CEO’s relationship with the female employee demonstrated extremely poor judgment and a lack of professionalism, but the inquiry revealed no misuse of Company resources. The inquiry also revealed no misuse of aircraft.

• In addition, as part of the investigation, it was determined that the Chairman of the Board of Directors acted inappropriately when he failed to bring the matter to the Audit Committee of the Board of Directors in December 2011, when the allegations were first raised with him.

“In December, when the conduct of our then-CEO was brought to my attention, I confronted him with the allegations (which he denied), told him his conduct was totally unacceptable and contrary to Best Buy’s policies and everything I, and the Company, stand for. I understand and accept the findings of the Audit Committee,” said Mr. Schulze.

In light of these findings, the Audit Committee of the Board will launch an effort to review and enhance, if appropriate, Best Buy’s relevant corporate policies and procedures. The goal of this review is to ensure a positive and consistent workplace environment for all employees at all levels.

In addition to electing a new chairman, the independent directors of the board have moved from a neutral position to a recommendation that the shareholders approve the shareholder proposal recommending declassification of the Board, which would require every director to stand for reelection on an annual basis.

“As a Board, we support the proposal for annual elections as an additional demonstration of our commitment to strong corporate governance practices. Each of us – with no exceptions – will be subject to approval by the shareholders on an annual basis,” said Mr. Tyabji.


http://www.deadline.com/2012/05/best-buy-founder-gives-up-chairman-role-after-mishandling-former-ceos-affair/#more-271856

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« Reply #6685 on: May 14th, 2012, 3:06pm »

"COMING HOME"

(No words needed.....)


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« Reply #6686 on: May 15th, 2012, 08:02am »

Good morning Swamprat.

Thank you for those photos.

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« Reply #6687 on: May 15th, 2012, 08:05am »

New York Times

May 14, 2012, 10:13 pm
Red Flags Said to Go Unheeded by Bosses at JPMorgan
By JESSICA SILVER-GREENBERG and NELSON D. SCHWARTZ

In the years leading up to JPMorgan Chase’s $2 billion trading loss, risk managers and some senior investment bankers raised concerns that the bank was making increasingly large investments involving complex trades that were hard to understand. But even as the size of the bets climbed steadily, these former employees say, their concerns about the dangers were ignored or dismissed.

An increased appetite for such trades had the approval of the upper echelons of the bank, including Jamie Dimon, the chief executive, current and former employees said.

Initially, this led to sharply higher investing profits, but they said it also contributed to the bank’s lowering its guard.

“There was a lopsided situation, between really risky positions and relatively weaker risk managers,” said a former trader with the chief investment office, the JPMorgan unit that suffered the recent loss. The trader and other former employees spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the nature of the investigations into the trading losses.

Instead, the bank maintains that the losses were largely the fault of the chief investment office. Overall tolerance for risky trading did not increase, current executives said, just the scale of the office’s activities because of the bank’s acquisition of Washington Mutual in 2008 and its more risky credit portfolio.

Despite Mr. Dimon’s recent apologies about the losses, which will most likely be repeated on Tuesday as JPMorgan shareholders gather for the company’s annual meeting in Tampa, Fla., regulators will scrutinize risk management at the chief investment office.

Top investment bank executives raised concerns about the growing size and complexity of the bets held by the bank’s chief investment office as early as 2007, according to interviews with half a dozen current and former bank officials. Within the investment office, led by Ina Drew, who resigned on Monday, the bets were directed by the head of the Europe trading desk in London, Achilles Macris.

JPMorgan Chase, via Bloomberg NewsIna R. Drew has stepped down as chief investment officer at JPMorgan Chase.Mr. Macris, who is also expected to resign, failed to heed concerns as early as 2009 from the unit’s own internal risk officer, said current and former members of the chief investment office. Mr. Macris and Ms. Drew were not available for comment.

Under Mr. Dimon’s stewardship, JPMorgan Chase has long had a reputation for its strong risk-management abilities — indeed, it came through the 2008 financial crisis largely unscathed, unlike many big banks. For their part, senior bank officials on Monday disputed the assertions that the company weakened risk management in recent years while seeking higher trading profits.

Risk managers were largely sidelined by Mr. Macris, who had wide latitude and also had Ms. Drew’s support, with only modest interference from her. At one point, after concerns were raised about positions assembled by Bruno Iksil, now known as the London Whale, Mr. Macris brought in a risk officer with whom he had worked closely in the past.

Risk officers are empowered to halt trades deemed too dangerous, so the coziness of the arrangement generated talk in New York as well, according to the former trader within the chief investment office.

Several bankers said that risk controls were not sufficiently strengthened by Doug Braunstein, who took over as chief financial officer in 2010, another reason the bolder trades continued.

The bank disputes that Mr. Braunstein tolerated additional risk in any way, said Joe Evangelisti, a spokesman for the bank.

David Olson, who headed up credit trading for the chief investment office until December, said that in his trading “the management was very involved and the risk controls were very strong.”

Part of the breakdown in supervision, current executives said, was a fundamental disconnect between the chief investment office in London and the rest of the bank. Even within the chief investment office there were heightening concerns that the bets being made in London were incredibly complex and not fully understood by management in New York.

Despite these concerns, the scope of the chief investment’s offices trades widened sharply following the acquisition of Washington Mutual at the height of the financial crisis in 2008. Not only did the bank bring with it hundreds of billions more in assets, it also owned riskier securities that needed to be hedged against. As a result, the business’s investment securities portfolio rapidly grew, more than quadrupling to $356 billion in 2011, from $76.5 billion in 2007, company filing show.

Ms. Drew made presentations to the board about twice a year, one former executive recalled, “but it was just not talked about a lot,” he said.

What is more, said another senior former executive, Mr. Dimon had other fires to put out, and the chief investment office wasn’t a “problem child” for either top managers or the board of directors, despite its rapid expansion. Gigantic losses were piling up from bad mortgages, and new regulations were threatening the profitability of traditional banking, among other pressing matters.

All of these factors may explain why Mr. Dimon, an executive known for his ability to sense risk who also was familiar with the minutiae of his business, failed to heed the first alarm bells that were sounded in early April.

Sirens had gone off after a series of erratic trading sessions in late March resulted in big gains one day, followed by even bigger losses the next on the London trading desk of the bank’s chief investment office. Mr. Dimon was convinced by Ms. Drew and her team that the turbulence was “manageable,” executives said. Nor did anyone on the operating committee, of which Ms. Drew is a member, question her conclusion — in fact the full operating committee wasn’t told of the scope of the problem till early last week, just days before Mr. Dimon went public.

The alarm bells were silenced in early April, but days after first-quarter earnings were reported on April 13, the erratic trading pattern continued, except this time there were few gains to offset the losses, and the red ink was flowing faster by the day.

Mr. Dimon convened a second round of checks, which soon concluded there was a ticking time bomb, but by then it was too late, a situation made worse as traders actually increased their bets instead of shrinking them, resulting in a loss that now totals more than $2 billion and threatens a management team that until now could seemingly do no wrong.

The company has indicated publicly that the losses could eventually double, depending on market conditions.

On Monday, the bank replaced Ms. Drew with Matthew E. Zames and appointed a former chief financial officer, Mike Cavanagh, to head up the task of fixing what went wrong. One of the most respected senior executives at the bank, Mr. Cavanagh has been a loyal lieutenant of Mr. Dimon since before he took over JPMorgan Chase and has been discussed as a possible successor.


http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2012/05/14/warnings-said-to-go-unheeded-by-chase-bosses/?hp

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« Reply #6688 on: May 15th, 2012, 08:09am »

Seattle Times

Originally published May 14, 2012 at 10:11 PM
Page modified May 14, 2012 at 10:16 PM

Scientists learn much about humans from birds' singing lessons

Celebrated by poets and welcomed as a harbinger of spring, the seasonal outpouring of bird song is also a focus of research for scientists. The way birds learn their songs is similar to the way babies learn to talk and adults master a golf swing, University of Washington researchers say.

By Sandi Doughton
Seattle Times science reporter

Why wasn't this intruder getting the message?

The lord of the manor had warned him repeatedly to back off, with threatening gestures and loud admonitions. But the trespasser just sat there — singing.

The time for détente was past. In a flurry of feathers, the resident sparrow dived for his challenger's head.

"They have personalities," said Michael Beecher, watching from a few feet away as the furious bird pecked and clawed at the rival male. "Some are more laid back, but this is an attacking bird."

The University of Washington biologist stepped in to terminate the brawl, retrieving the stuffed sparrow and mini-speaker that tricked the real bird into believing his territory had been overrun.

Foe vanquished, the sparrow fluffed himself up, perched high in a tree and let loose a cascade of trills and whistles.

"That's the king-of-the-mountain song," Beecher said.

Beecher understands better than most the messages that pass between song sparrows. He and his students have been studying the birds' communication patterns in Seattle's Discovery Park for more than 25 years. The duel he orchestrated on a recent morning provided an opportunity to record the sotto voce song that males use only when confronting interlopers — a kind of in-your-face undertone that hisses: I mean business.

Celebrated by poets and welcomed as a harbinger of spring, the seasonal outpouring of bird song also is a focus of research for scientists interested in animal behavior, like Beecher — and those who want to understand human thought and learning. Nineteenth-century poet Percy Shelley couldn't have guessed he was foretelling a branch of neuroscience when he hailed the skylark: "Teach me half the gladness that thy brain must know."

The way birds learn their songs is similar to the way babies learn to talk and adults master a golf swing, UW brain researchers say. And studies of the seasonal changes in bird brains are revealing neurological twists that one day might be harnessed to heal human brains damaged by stroke, Alzheimer's disease and other disorders.

"The strength of the songbird system is that you can go down to the very detailed, micro-level ... then explain how that leads to changes in behavior," UW neurobiologist David Perkel said. "That's something not a lot of neuroscience can do."

Brain cells in flux

It was research on songbirds that upset the long-held notion that most animals — and most certainly humans — were born with all the gray matter they would ever have. Working with canaries and chickadees in the 1980s, Fernando Nottebohm at Rockefeller University found brain regions associated with song and the ability to locate hidden caches of food were constantly birthing new cells.

Scientists soon discovered neurons sprouting in other brain areas and in the brains of other animals — including Homo sapiens.

But nothing in the human brain comes close to the transformation male birds undergo as they ride a roller coaster of hormones that peaks this time of year, said Eliot Brenowitz, UW professor of biology and psychology. Brenowitz is working to understand how a spring spike in testosterone causes the parts of the brain that control song to double or triple in size.

"It's the brain's version of an athlete bulking up on steroids," he said.

In the white-crowned sparrows Brenowitz studies, the birds' vocal skills improve in concert with the changes inside their heads. In winter, their songs are scratchy and jumbled. By early March, everyone is following the appropriate score and performing like Pavarotti.

"If you go out now," Brenowitz said, "the songs are clean, they're crisp and they're beautiful to listen to."

The birds produce new neurons year-round, but the testosterone surge enables more of those cells to survive and grow at a time when males need maximum brainpower to attract a mate, fight off rivals and defend territory — all of which demand bravura vocalizing. Perkel's studies show that the brain cells also undergo electrochemical changes that make them more responsive and better able to link up in networks.

After the chicks fledge in late summer and the father birds relax, their testosterone levels drop and song neurons die off like falling leaves. That's when things get really interesting to Brenowitz. The death of brain cells seems to accelerate production of replacements. Few of the new cells survive in the fall and winter, when testosterone levels are low. But the phenomenon tracks what happens in people who have lost brain cells to a stroke. Other parts of their brains begin producing new neurons. The effect isn't robust enough to heal the damage, but bird studies may reveal ways to give it a boost, Brenowitz said.

"There's a lot of hope that this will lead to a way to try to repair damaged brains," he said.

Clues to learning

Many birds, such as gulls and flycatchers, are hatched with vocalizations hard-wired into their brains. But the 4,000 species that comprise the songbirds, considered the most melodious crooners, must learn how to sing properly. Perkel's research focuses on zebra finches, which study and memorize the songs of adults. At first, the fledglings jabber or sing snippets, gradually improving until what comes out of their beaks matches the template in their memory banks.

"It's a model for speech learning in humans," Perkel said.

Charles Darwin was among the first to suggest a connection, noting similarities between the babbling of baby birds and the nonsense syllables of human infants. Perkel is convinced the parallels extend to all types of learning that require practice and feedback, from memorizing multiplication tables to honing a golf swing or ski jump.

"We think that by cracking this circuit in birds," he said, "it will have a large impact on our understanding of the brain mechanisms involved in learning a broad variety of skills."

In the lab, Perkel and his colleagues can change a bird's singing behavior by manipulating levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine, linked to mood and disorders such as Parkinson's disease in humans. A tiny dose of a dopamine blocker delivered to the brain locks male finches into practice mode and prevents them from singing the polished song used to court females.

Zebra finches sing a single tune throughout their lives, but species such as larks and thrushes have hundreds in their repertoires. Male song sparrows produce up to 10 distinct songs, which they learn by eavesdropping on adults in much the same way human babies soak up and mimic sounds. Beecher wants to know how young males choose their role models.

This spring, he's recording the songs of all 50-some youngsters in his study area and comparing them with grown-ups. Beecher converts the recordings to sonograms — hieroglyphiclike notations that reflect the pitch, intensity and duration of musical phrases that pour out too quickly for the human ear to distinguish. "It's easier for us to see it than to hear it," he said.

Beecher discovered that some adults are surprisingly tolerant of young males before breeding season starts. He often sees them sitting side by side on a branch, with none of the turmoil his stuffed bird elicits during spring's fever pitch. Could being part of one of these odd couples help the young birds learn? "That's what we hope to figure out this year," he said.

His research so far has not been able to support the assumption that bird song is the acoustic version of the peacock's tail — a way to dazzle the ladies. Paternity testing of chicks reveals song sparrows, once considered a model of monogamy, do more than forage in the bushes. Beecher and his students find females are equal-opportunity cheaters, stepping out on a mate without regard to the size of his song catalogs.

"There's no evidence she gives a damn whether he sings one song or a dozen songs," Beecher said.

Blithe spirits, indeed.

http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2018209672_birdbrains15m.html

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« Reply #6689 on: May 15th, 2012, 08:12am »

The Hill

Lobbyists brace for regulations fight over $2 billion bungled trade

By Peter Schroeder
05/15/12 05:00 AM ET

Financial lobbyists are bracing for a fresh Capitol Hill battle on financial reform after a $2 billion botched trade at JPMorgan Chase put Wall Street back in the Washington spotlight.

While the nation’s largest bank quickly took steps to contain the damage — officials involved with the trade resigned on Monday — the incident has led to new congressional hearings and reinvigorated a debate over Wall Street that had cooled over the past several months.

“It’s the first big story involving an American bank of a problem post-financial crisis,” said Brian Gardner, senior vice president of Washington research at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods. “It just feeds into the ‘Oh, here we go again.’ ”

The trading debacle has rekindled the core left-versus-right debate on the financial meltdown and Great Recession over the appropriate level of government interference in capital markets.

Lobbyists for the financial industry have spent months meeting with lawmakers and regulators working on the Dodd-Frank financial reform law in an effort to influence the hundreds of regulations in the pipeline.

Now they expect they’ll have to double their efforts.

“Once the dust settles, there will be a need to go back to everybody and re-explain what the industry is for,” said one senior financial-industry executive who asked to remain anonymous.

Democrats are pressing regulators to tighten draft rules on Dodd-Frank, especially on the “Volcker Rule” aimed at preventing banks with federally guaranteed deposits from making risky trades in pursuit of their own profit.

They also used the opportunity to continue their push for bigger budgets for Wall Street’s regulators. President Obama has called for major funding boosts that so far have been stymied by the Republican-led House.

“I think it should build the case for the funding for the [Commodity Futures Trading Commission],” said Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.).

Senate Banking Committee Chairman Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) announced Monday that his panel would be holding more hearings with regulators on the implementation of Dodd-Frank, adding that lawmakers will also be discussing the JPMorgan trades.

Republicans have urged caution, saying all the facts must be gathered on JPMorgan before deciding if policy should be changed.

“I’m old-fashioned. I’d like for us to be dealing with reality instead of myth and perception,” said Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) on CNBC. Corker has called for exploratory hearings on the trades.

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) hit the same note one day earlier, in an interview on “Fox News Sunday.”

“We need to make sure we get all of the facts before jumping to conclusions about the need for greater financial regulation,” he said.

Other lawmakers are preparing legislation.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) announced Monday that he is drafting a bill that would prevent JPMorgan Chairman Jamie Dimon from holding his seat on the board of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, calling it an “obvious conflict of interest.”

Massachusetts Democratic senatorial candidate Elizabeth Warren also called for Dimon’s ouster from the New York Fed.

Warren, who largely built her reputation on grilling Wall Street, followed that up Monday by launching a petition to bring back the Glass-Steagall Act. The 1930s legislation established a firewall between traditional and investment banking, but was chipped away at and ultimately repealed in 1999. JPMorgan makes a compelling case for its return, she said.

“I don’t think we should just trust Wall Street banks to regulate themselves,” she said on the petition. “I’m calling on Congress to put Wall Street reform back on the agenda.”

Warren is locked in a tight race with Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) that could decide the balance in the Senate. That race alone, experts said, raises the likelihood of new legislation aimed at Wall Street.

At the same time, financial-industry lobbyists said they did not expect any new policies to be approved by the divided Congress.

“You’ll see someone introduce some legislation to toughen up Volcker,” said Gardner. “But nothing’s going to be passed. It’s pure political posturing.

“There will be a lot of grandstanding, but there will be no legislating,” he added.

With Democrats eager for any chance to tie the GOP to Wall Street as Election Day draws near — especially given presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s background in private equity — don’t expect a staunch defense from Republicans, Gardner said.

“I don’t think anybody wants to be in a position of defending a bank right now,” he said.

Even if nothing of substance happens on Capitol Hill, regulators still hold substantial sway over the final face of Dodd-Frank, as they write rules implementing it. A key question will be how much regulators are swayed by the new developments and ensuing political pressure.

“There’s plenty of cause for concern,” one executive said. “The human instinct here would be for someone to say, ‘Gosh, perhaps we missed something.’ ”

There are, however, reasons for the financial industry to remain optimistic in the face of the trading meltdown.

For one, JPMorgan is not on the brink of insolvency, taking discussions of another politically noxious taxpayer bailout off the table. Furthermore, some are already questioning whether a tough Dodd-Frank would have prevented the high-loss trade.

Backers of the Volcker Rule used the event as evidence a tough rule is needed, but Dimon has indicated he believes the trades would not have been prevented if the rule were in place.

Other segments in the banking industry think the new attention on Wall Street could help their sectors.

Officials at the Independent Community Bankers Association, which represents small community banks, said a high-profile mess at a big Wall Street bank works in their favor.

“It might create more political good will for our message,” said Paul Merski, the group’s executive vice president for congressional relations and chief economist.

“It helps us create the clear distinction between the largest risky complex financial institutions and what community banks do,” he said.


http://thehill.com/blogs/on-the-money/banking-financial-institutions/227349-lobbyists-brace-for-regulations-fight-over-2b-bungled-trade

Crystal
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